As a teenager, just on the edge of truly understanding the Gospel, I remember occasionally tuning in to a pastor with a regular spot on nighttime television. He was the face of a megachurch, and his popularity was growing. And it’s no wonder why — he was charming and his words promised health, wealth, and success if only your faith would allow. Because what kind of good God wouldn’t give us such blessings, and who wouldn’t want to be told that type of news when their sin lands them in opposition to the Lord? This man is still around, continuing to prosper, and there’s countless others like him.
While the words may feel heavy coming out of our mouths, we shouldn’t be slow to identify such people as false teachers and prophets. Likely, you could also name a few off the top of your head, as they often seem to be the ones in the spotlight — receiving the praise of men. For a believer that is being trained in the Word, lies should be blatantly obvious against the truth. They should produce a heaviness in heart as the Spirit reminds you of what is from the Lord and what is from man. We should be ready and able to stand against falsehood, not being those who with itching ears accumulate teachers to suit our own passions (2 Timothy 4:3).
But, in all our defenses against the false prophets we see, have we considered if we ourselves tend toward this manner of speaking as well? Initially in wrestling with this question, my answer was a proud and resounding “no, not me, I never would”. Yet, if I am being honest, I can see how often my flesh would rather proclaim the temporal good of the world rather than the enduring good of the Lord — Because oftentimes God’s goodness and glory is most magnified as it is contrasted against the evil of this present age and as sin is put to death. That can be a difficult message to deliver. Because of this, we have to fight against this fleshly tendency to speak as false prophets, delivering a message that we perceive as a better remedy than the Gospel itself.
So let’s take a look at the book of Micah. The author, whom the book is named for, is writing to warn both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah of the judgment that is coming for their disobedience to the covenant. But in doing so, He also reminds the people of God’s faithfulness to discipline His people in love and to restore them as promised.
In chapter 2, after first speaking of the judgment that will come, the writer acknowledges the false prophets of his time — those who offer an easier pill to swallow. Verses 6 and 7 say,
“Do not prophesy,” their prophets say. “Do not prophesy about these things; disgrace will not overtake us. You descendants of Jacob, should it be said, “Does the Lord become impatient? Does he do such things?” “Do not my words do good to the one whose ways are upright?
Micah continues in verse 11:
“If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ that would be just the prophet for this people!”
So who are these false prophets, and what is it that they are prophesying? They are the ones who hear Micah’s warning of judgment, and respond by offering the people a more alluring alternative. They are the ones who hear of the consequences of sin yet prefer — or maybe even believe — that they should stand exempt.
These false prophets indulge the evil of the people. While Israel and Judah are facing death and destruction as the result of their sin, these false prophets spew comforts of food, wine, and merriment. But Micah reminds the people that his words, filled with all their woe and justice, are actually for the good of those who seek the Lord.
Take that in for a moment. If you are under Christ, then the rebuke of sin should be a greater comfort than its dismissal. Do you think this way when you see a friend in the pit of sin and despair? Or, do your words tend toward the promise of “wine and strong drink”, so that you may be “the preacher for these people”? Is your message one that offers pardon apart from consequence, comfort apart from discipline, in order that you may preserve yourself or bypass the hard call of reproof? Or maybe, as you watch the painful effects of sin on someone else, you genuinely desire their comfort so much that you try to create it through your words rather than through the enduring comfort of Christ?
When sin is left unacknowledged and unaccounted for, it will destroy everything in its path — even if that destruction manifests through worldly gain. While helping someone else discern their sin and feel the weight of its consequences will undoubtedly be hard, it is the most loving thing you can do. And, it is what the Lord has called you to do. Don’t laugh off sin and don’t console a sinner with fleeting comforts, allowing someone to continue in their disobedience so that you might watch grace abound. That is a distortion of the Gospel and the call to follow Christ. And, while the blood of Christ pardons those who are truly His, there are real consequences for unrepented sin in the life of the believer and non-believer alike. Our efforts of preservation through offering inflated and false words will only perpetuate destruction in the lives of those we love.
As we continue through Micah, the writer points out what will come for such false prophets, concerned with the temporal rather than the eternal. In chapter 3, verses 5-8, Micah says,
“As for the prophets who lead my people astray, they proclaim ‘peace’ if they have something to eat, but prepare to wage war against anyone who refuses to feed them. Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them. The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God.” But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.”
To those who cover sin with empty platitudes — who use the truth of God when it feeds their hunger, but dismiss it when it leaves them feeling less-than-expected — there will come a time when there is no wisdom left to give. Words will fall short, and promises offered will prove themselves empty. God will not play into a false prophet’s hands, but rather His sovereign goodness will prevail against sin. Do not be the one who receives the praise of man yet in the end finds themselves opposed to God and His righteousness. Be willing to say the hard stuff, even if the one who hears it cannot understand. You are called to unequivocally speak the truth in love, and then trust the Spirit of God to convict, refine, and restore.
And here’s the encouragement: As Micah says, the carrying out of this calling is not in our own power, but by the very power of the Lord. With justice and with might, declare to both the lost and found the sin and wandering that you discern. Love someone enough to risk your reputation and your comfort that they may not fall victim to the disqualifications of ongoing sin. And trust the Lord to produce an outcome of good, even as it puts you at odds with the world and even if you cannot fully see it in this lifetime. The reality is that God’s anger lasts for but a moment, while His favor endures. Anything you can offer apart from Christ is empty, but any Gospel declaration against sin allows someone to bear up under the momentary anger of God that was inflicted once for all upon Jesus Himself — that they may enjoy the eternal favor of the Lord.
And in closing, remember the charge given by Paul to ministers of the Gospel. Be one who exemplifies this high call of stewarding the truth.
“preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5
Kristina Shiddell works as the ministry and communications coordinator for Lightbearers Ministries International, serves as the Global Missions Director at The Hill Church, and is working on a Master of Theological Studies at MBTS.